5. Travis Knight
Stop-motion animation is one of the most complex and intricate cinematic art forms, and one of the most breathtaking if done successfully. With his directorial debut “Kubo and the Two Strings,” stop-motion maestro Travis Knight demonstrates his mastery of both technique and storytelling. The film follows the journey of young Kubo, as he fights to protect his family’s honor while fulfilling his yearning for adventure. Knight’s brilliance is evident in the way in which he crafts the film’s animation to create a world built from origami — the film is constructed from folded paper-like segments that move together to create a cohesive and dynamic aesthetic. Knight also weaves Japanese mythology, tradition and ideals with Western narrative techniques in a seamless fashion. A seasoned professional in the world of stop-motion, Knight has worked with the esteemed Laika Entertainment to head critically acclaimed projects like “Coraline” and “ParaNorman.” His directorial work on “Kubo,” however, sets him apart from other names in the industry as a director to watch; his work carries a force of creative innovation unseen in the previous hallmarks of stop-motion.
— Sydney Cohen
4. Robert Eggers
“The Witch” could be the most carefully made movie of the year. In preparation for filming, director Robert Eggers painstakingly researched and recreated a Puritan New England homestead using period-appropriate tools and materials. He could tell you the exact dimensions of the windows and how many candles you would need to light a room. All that research and precision (all five years of it) paid off for Eggers. “The Witch” is completely immersive. Eggers pulls his audience so deep into the world of the film that the horror unfolds in tiny moments all around us. It’s claustrophobic — a difficult feeling to create at the edge of the colonized world. The family has all the space they need and yet Eggers makes it feel as if they are on top of each other, and we on top of them. Eggers is working in a very old, but cinematically overlooked corner of horror. He’s walking in the world of Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley — heavy-velvet Gothic horror — and it’s wonderful. Eggers could be the director the genre needs to pull it back to its roots and propel it back to artistic relevance.
— Madeleine Gaudin
3. Daniels (Daniel Scheinert, Dan Kwan)
Daniel Radcliffe’s performance in “Swiss Army Man” might have been one of the best of 2016, but there are two other Daniels who deserve even more of the credit for this bizarre masterpiece: Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan, the collective “Daniels” who directed and wrote the film. After establishing themselves with a number of short films and music videos (like that famously weird video for “Turn Down for What”), the Daniels really made a name for themselves this year with their feature film debut, a gloriously indescribable fantasy-comedy-drama … or something. “Swiss Army Man” feels so much like it comes from such a singular mind that it’s initially surprising to learn it was borne from collaboration. With any luck, the Daniels will be around for a long time, filling the coming years with movies at once hilarious and deeply moving.
— Ben Rosenstock
2. Trey Edward Shults
Filming a perfect horror movie is really hard, but filming one with none of the traditional elements of the genre, and without professional actors, and without a budget, is nothing short of Herculean. But Trey Edward Shults, by casting his entire family and using their home as a set, did just that with “Krisha.” With his aunt, Krisha Fairchild, starring as the titular recovering alcoholic returning to her family for Thanksgiving, Shults created a masterful take on the terrors of family gatherings. Shults’s camera methodically soars in a contained space, stealthily dropping in on characters to reveal their conversations. “Krisha” is at once lyrical and horrifying, that rare mixture of utter terror and beauty. And to accomplish that with next to no resources indicates a supremely bright career ahead.
— Daniel Hensel
1. Kelly Fremon Craig
As I get further away from it, I’m coming to respect “The Edge of Seventeen” more and more. It's a thrilling return to form for that American staple — the coming-of-age teen comedy — and the woman behind the camera is a major talent to be heralded. “Seventeen” is better written than it is directed, but Kelly Fremon Craig knows the quality of the script she’s written. It’s spiky, full of edgy jokes and elegantly constructed scenes of dialogue; take, for example, any of the scenes between Nadine and Mr. Bruner (a testament to Craig’s direction that she was able to coax this hilarious of a performance out of Woody Harrelson (“True Detective”)). Her choices are also nuanced; she conveys a remarkable facility with the subtleties of her characters, and it’s a monumental achievement — on both her part and that of Hailee Steinfeld’s (“True Grit”) beautifully modulated performance — that Nadine is impressively irritating and heartbreakingly sympathetic in equal measure. Really, it’s Craig’s ability to legitimately achieve emotional poignancy that imbues her work with an uncommon sense of urgency. If Craig is the spiritual successor to John Hughes, then I’ll be unspeakably happy. And if she chooses any other direction, I’ll be just as excited; rarely are feature debuts more emotionally perceptive than this one, and rarely do they herald such a promising future.
— Nabeel Chollampat